Todd Martens’ best video games of 2014

Dec. 19, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.
monumentvalley Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Monument Valley” (Ustwo)
Miniature kingdoms — some in the sky, some in meadows, some in black holes — toy with our perception as we guide a princess through forgotten lands. Each tap of the screen reveals an unexpected perspective, all of them suitable for framing. (Ustwo)

framed 1 Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Framed” (Love Shack)
A comic book sprung to life; panels can be slid and rotated to drastically change the action. This is an uniquely mobile experience and one that has the player acting like the director of an animated noir film.

transistor 1 Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Transistor” (Supergiant)
A flamed-haired cabaret singer and the talking sword who loves her, “Transistor” is a sci-fi mystery in our which memories can be downloaded and deleted like computer files. Play it as action game — or pause the combat and tackle scenes with more strategy. Or just listen to one of the best soundtracks of the year.

neveralone Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Never Alone” (Upper One Games)
A story passed down through generations, “Never Alone” is like stumbling upon a long lost fairy tale. It’s the rare game to explore Native American heritage, and it does so with a dark, mystical edge, where ice can become villainous, wind can became nefarious and an owl’s hoots sound like musical notes.

sunsetoverdrive Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Sunset Overdrive” (Insomniac)
A future in which urban development resembles City Walk run amok, this ultra-fast, high-action adventure owns its humorously bitter punk rock attitude. Perhaps more important, it makes video game shooting fun again (hint: Teddy Bear guns).

ethancarter1 Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” (The Astronauts)
Tonally, think of “Twin Peaks.” With traces of pulpish sci-fi and hints of hard-boiled noir, there is no designated order to this magical, murderous game as players are set free, dropped in a gorgeous, photorealistic world and told essentially nothing.

fantasia1 Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” (Harmonix/Disney)
A musical creation game that’s accessible and experimental, “Fantasia” turns players into a Sorcerer Mickey-like remixer. Wave, slap and swipe — and watch your reflection glitter on the screen — as fantastical worlds come to life.

mariokart Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Mario Kart 8″ (Nintendo)
The only racing game that matters — and one, if you’re not careful, that can ruin friendships. Anything usually goes in this family-friendly cartoon romp, including the ability to drive a cart on an airplane wing.

valianthearts Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Valiant Hearts: The Great War” (Ubisoft)
The broadly drawn comic-book art style — as well as a helpful Doberman pinscher that loves belly rubs — tempers the seriousness of the material, putting players in a setting more akin to the scenes of Snoopy battling the Red Baron in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” than to the blood-drenched realism of most video games.

sailorsdream1 Todd Martens best video games of 2014

“Sailor’s Dream” (Simogo)
Small Swedish studio Simogo is re-imagining how stories are told, turning the mere delivery of text into a game. Words come into focus with a touch, providing a way forward for not only play but short stories.

THE PLAYER

New faces dominated interactive entertainment in 2014, from a tiny princess adrift in a puzzling kingdom to a Native American lost in the Alaskan arctic. Those looking for something familiar, take heart, an Italian plumber still had a role in one of the best games of the past 12 months.

Here’s a look back.

“Monument Valley” (Ustwo)

“Monument Valley” (Ustwo)

“Monument Valley” (Ustwo). Miniature kingdoms — some in the sky, some in meadows, some in black holes — toy with our perception as we guide a princess through forgotten lands. Each tap of the screen reveals an unexpected perspective, all of them suitable for framing.

“Framed” (Love Shack). A comic book sprung to life; panels can be slid and rotated to drastically change the action. This is an uniquely mobile experience and one that has the player acting like the director of an animated noir film. (More)

ESSAY: 2014 Games: There was ugliness, but diversity won

“Transistor” (Supergiant). A flamed-haired cabaret singer and the talking sword who loves her, “Transistor” is a sci-fi mystery in our which memories can be downloaded and deleted like computer files. Play it as action game — or pause the combat and tackle scenes with more strategy. Or just listen to one of the best soundtracks of the year.

“Never Alone” (Upper One Games). A story passed down through generations, “Never Alone” is like stumbling upon a long lost fairy tale. It’s the rare game to explore Native American heritage, and it does so with a dark, mystical edge, where ice can become villainous, wind can became nefarious and an owl’s hoots sound like musical notes. (More)

“Sunset Overdrive” (Insomniac). A future in which urban development resembles City Walk run amok, this ultra-fast, high-action adventure owns its humorously bitter punk rock attitude. Perhaps more important, it makes video game shooting fun again (hint: Teddy Bear guns). (More)

“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” (The Astronauts). Tonally, think of “Twin Peaks.” With traces of pulpish sci-fi and hints of hard-boiled noir, there is no designated order to this magical, murderous game as players are set free, dropped in a gorgeous, photorealistic world and told essentially nothing. (More)

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” (Harmonix/Disney). A musical creation game that’s accessible and experimental, “Fantasia” turns players into a Sorcerer Mickey-like remixer. Wave, slap and swipe — and watch your reflection glitter on the screen — as fantastical worlds come to life. (More)

An underwater scene in "Fantasia: Music Evolved." (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

An underwater scene in “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

“Mario Kart 8” (Nintendo). The only racing game that matters — and one, if you’re not careful, that can ruin friendships. Anything usually goes in this family-friendly cartoon romp, including the ability to drive a cart on an airplane wing. (More)

“Valiant Hearts: The Great War” (Ubisoft). The broadly drawn comic-book art style — as well as a helpful Doberman pinscher that loves belly rubs — tempers the seriousness of the material, putting players in a setting more akin to the scenes of Snoopy battling the Red Baron in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” than to the blood-drenched realism of most video games. (More)

ESSAY: 2014 Games: There was ugliness, but diversity won

“Sailor’s Dream” (Simogo). Small Swedish studio Simogo is re-imagining how stories are told, turning the mere delivery of text into a game. Words come into focus with a touch, providing a way forward for not only play but short stories.

Worst: Immaturity

Games are intimidating, what with all the rules that need to be learned and such. Worse, the game-playing community isn’t always welcoming, which was hard to avoid in 2014. Still unable to shake its reputation as a boys’ club, more than a few gamers made it awfully apparent what they think of female developers and critics, as numerous women were subject to monthslong online harassment campaigns. At times the vitriol became so vile that you’d be forgiven for never wanting to play another game again.

— Todd Martens | @Toddmartens | @LATherocomplex

RECENT AND RELATED:

'Framed'‘Framed’ review: Craft a noir comic in this stylish mobile game

The Game Awards: Nintendo steals spotlight at lighthearted gala

‘Sunset Overdrive’ delivers madness with an apocalyptic message

‘A Bird Story’ plays with loneliness of pet ownership

‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter,’ a haunting magical game

‘Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved’ plays with remix culture

‘Hohokum’: All the braver for ignoring gaming conventions

’80 Days’: Jules Verne-inspired game brings a more global perspective

‘That Dragon, Cancer’ brings a serious ordeal to gaming

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